A vocal opponent of the Republican incumbent, the Democratic commissioner has launched a “listening tour” to connect and understand the needs of Florida communities.
As she begins her campaign to run for governor in 2022 against Republican incumbent Ron DeSantis, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has been traveling across the state to get her message across. But the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida says she wants to do more than just share her message. She wants to listen to what the people have to say.
For this reason, in July she launched the Nikki Escucha/Nikki Listens Tour, which travels across the state to meet with community stakeholders and concerned citizens “with a focus on connecting with and understanding the needs of Florida’s Hispanic communities,” according to a news release from Fried’s campaign. And Boricuas living in Florida were among the first to be part of this dialogue.
Connecting to Floricuas
“Our first stop was in Central Florida. We had a round table with with Alianza for Progress, listening to leaders about what issues are impacting their lives,” Fried told Floricua.
“So many of our Puerto Ricans that came here to our state, whether after María, or even beforehand, sacrificed leaving the island in search of economic opportunity, a better way of life for their family,” she said. “We have to do better for them.”
During those sessions, she said, she heard about needing support for small businesses, about not being able to have access to capital, facing a language barrier, or confronting discrimination in the capital markets.
“We need to come up with ideas in Florida to support our small businesses, whether that is finding new ways to get access to our state banks, or even have money set aside for different types of entrepreneurial programs in our state,” said Fried, who added that after 25 consecutive years of Republican rule in the state, she is looking to “break the system.”
“I just fundamentally don’t believe that the current administration and the party that is in rule right now cares about the lives of everybody in Florida,” she said. “I have seen the corruption in the state. A system that is rigged against everyday working-class families and is only interested in special interests. It is time to break the system and make sure we have a state that is working for everybody.”
For the People
Fried, who calls the economy her No. 1 issue, is aware that much of Florida’s economy is dependent the tourism and hospitality industries. But this ties the state to creating and supporting minimum wage jobs. For this reason, Fried believes Florida needs to diversify and attract new industries, citing Fortune 500 companies and Georgia’s film industry, which generates billions of dollars. That money, she said, “could be brought into our state.”
She is also a strong proponent of affordable housing. According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, a rental home at the average “fair market rent” in the US is $1,295 a month, which is beyond what many Floridians can afford.
Yet, she points out, “we just gave back to the federal government almost a 100 million dollars for affordable housing, because DeSantis’ own administration couldn’t properly administer the money. That means projects that are not going to be able to be developed here in our state.”
Fried also believes that a plan to prevent foreclosures and help families keep their homes, needs to be in place before a crisis takes place. “We can’t wait for the round of foreclosures to occur and then create a plan. We need to be proactive.”
Building homes across the state would also bring in more corporations “that would provide those better paying jobs.”
Another goal is supporting the state’s education system, which is ranked 47th in the US, and a situation that she calls unacceptable. Fried wants to make sure that the public education system in Florida is funded, as well as ensuring there is money for vocational skills sets within the school system.
A Need for ‘Something New’
Fried, who has been a very vocal opponent of how Gov. DeSantis has handled the COVID-19 crisis in the state, said that as Florida breaks records in new cases of coronavirus, “right now I would be issuing another state of emergency.” Yet, she said, this governor is refusing to have any type of messaging that would save lives, like updating people on where the breakouts are happening, telling people to mask up again, to take the vaccine, to not go into elevators with strangers again… “Instead he is going down to Texas and talking about a border crisis.”
For all these reasons, Fried said, “we need to try something new. We need to break the system.” And that, she said, is why she is listening. Because “we need the people to be part of this movement.”